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Dealing with Separation Issues

Question: I’m a new Kindergarten teacher, and I have been told that one of the children in my class this fall cries a lot and has trouble separating from his Mom.  What are some things that I can do to be prepared for that first week or so that I’m sure it is going to take for him to “settle in”?  Thanks in advance for your help.

Adele Brodkin: I imagine that knowing there is at least one child in your first kindergarten class who is likely to have trouble separating keeps you from feeling relaxed about this big moment in your life.  Still, it’s a good thing to be prepared, rather than taken by surprise.

Let’s talk a bit about ways to ease the transition for all young children entering a new (to them) school program. If your administrator has no objection, you might contact each of the entering children with a brief note or postcard introducing yourself and saying how much you are looking forward to having him or her in your class. Some teachers even make home visits before the start of school.  A phone contact or note might introduce the idea.  Not every parent will be amenable to a visit, which is fine. Alternatively, some teachers invite children and their parents to visit in the classroom the week before school begins, arranging those meetings so there is time for an individual chat with each one. You might encourage the visitors to bring a photograph of family members; and you can post all of those on a bulletin board that is in full view on the first day of school.  These are all small ways of welcoming a new child and giving him a chance to become somewhat familiar with his new school and new teacher. Knowing each kindergartner allows you to greet them all by name on the first day.

Some programs have a flexible separation policy, which includes allowing any parent whose child needs her, to stay for a while – minutes, hours or even several days, allowing for a gradual separation.  Again with the administration’s support, inviting a parent or two to stay does not mean that anyone has failed – not the child, the parent, or the teacher. Rather it suggests a level of kindness and sensitivity to children’s and parents’needs that often makes the separation go much smoother than anticipated.

Once the parent has gone, keep a special eye on any child who is a bit ambivalent about separating. Arrange for him to be near you during group activities. Subtly guide him in making friends, offer him an occasional special role, such as the cookie server or juice pourer, for example. You will soon learn what activities and materials are especially appealing to him and which children are diverting companions. Encourage the parents to arrange play dates with one or two classmates out of school.

Finally, I would recommend that you take a look at Nancy Balaban’s book, Everyday Goodbyes, published by Teachers College Press. She has more helpful hints and suggestions.

For more advice by Adele, check out the Between Teacher and Parent column.

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